We can say that every good manager looks ahead. But when you’re considering management styles, it may be helpful to look backwards.

kurt Lewins leadership styles


In the late 1930s, Dr. Kurt Lewin and 2 graduate students conducted a series of interesting experiments of leadership styles at the University of Iowa. They organized 3 groups of boys into mask-making teams, guiding each with a different management style: authoritarian, democratic and laissez-faire.

You can see already why there might be limitations to the studies. Lewin never tested his particular ideas on adults in an office setting. Nevertheless the work launched a scholarly discussion of leadership and management that continues to this day. And even now the studies still provide some valuable insight into management styles.

What follows are Lewin’s styles and their advantages and disadvantages.



A democratic leader looks for consensus from his or her team, or at the very least is open to their opinions. A democratic leader also tries to be open and approachable. It can also lead to a quagmire when it’s overdone, but generally this seems to be the most effective management style.


  • collaborative decision-maker
  • Emphasis is on ‘we’
  • constructive criticism


Also called “Autocratic” management, this style of leadership may not be the most pleasant for underlings, but it can be very effective (think of Steve Jobs). The authoritarian leader sets a high bar and expects results. This is perhaps a necessary form a leadership in a crisis, but in other situations it can lead to disaffected workers and burnout.


  • leadership throug order, demands, threats and punishment
  • Emphasis is on ‘you’ and ‘I’
  • punitive criticism


Also called delegative, a ‘laissez-faire’ leader doesn’t hover. They let their people get on with it. The better laissez-faire leaders will check in with their employees and provide guidance. You never see the bad ones. While this can work out well if employees are self-motivated, it tends to be the least productive management style.


  • Members have the responsibilities for all objectives
  • Emphasis is on the group and on delegative tasks 
  • no criticism


Ultimately, leadership is a complicated issue. There’s no one way to do it. And often the best leaders combine different methods, changing up their styles as the situation changes. What works for a startup, for example, may not be the best way to manage a restaurant.

City College, one of Florida’s leading business management schools, offers courses to prepare you for a successful career in management and helps you find your inner leadership style throughout its business management programs. Learn more about City College Associate of management program.

What’s your leadership style? Think about how you might be a better manager by mixing in other styles.